Katherine of Aragon
By permission of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church Commissioners; on loan to the National Portrait Gallery, London
Katherine of Aragon
by Unknown artist
oil on oak panel, circa 1520
20 1/2 in. x 16 1/2 in. (520 mm x 420 mm) overall
Lent by Church Commissioners for England, 2011
Sitterback to top
- Katherine of Aragon (1485-1536), First Queen of Henry VIII. Sitter associated with 16 portraits.
This portraitback to top
This portrait is paired with a painting of Henry VIII following the recent re-identification of the portrait of Katherine of Aragon. While they did not originally form a pair, they are of a comparable date and scale, and share a similar green damask background. Both are likely to be examples of portrait types of the king and queen that would have been produced in multiple versions, some of which would have been paired in this way.
Linked publicationsback to top
- Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 21 Read entry
Katherine of Aragon was the youngest daughter of the Spanish sovereigns Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, and was married to Henry VII’s eldest son, Arthur, in 1501. However, Arthur died only a short while later, and it was to his brother Henry that Katherine was married for more than twenty years. Henry and Katherine were jointly crowned on 24 June 1509; however, following many miscarriages and the death of their son Henry at seven weeks old, the dynastic imperative of a legitimate male heir spurred Henry to disavow his wife. He questioned the validity of the marriage on the grounds that it had been wrong in the eyes of God for him to marry his brother’s wife. His pursuit of an annulment led to the creation of the Church of England, with the monarch at its head in place of the pope. This portrait is of a comparable date and scale to the preceding image of Henry VIII. Both are likely to be examples of the portrait types of the king and queen that would have been produced in multiple versions, some of which would have been displayed as a pair. Katherine never accepted the annulment of her marriage or the title Princess Dowager of Wales, and paired portraits of her and Henry are poignantly listed in the inventory of her possessions taken after her death.
- Cannadine, Sir David (Introduction); Cooper, Tarnya; Stewart, Louise; MacGibbon, Rab; Cox, Paul; Peltz, Lucy; Moorhouse, Paul; Broadley, Rosie; Jascot-Gill, Sabina, Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits, 2018 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA, 7 October 2018 -3 February 2019. Bendigo Art Gallery, Australia, 16 March - 14 July 2019.), p. 95 Read entry
Henry VIII married Katherine of Aragon just before his coronation and they ruled the country together for over twenty years. They had a number of children, but only their daughter Mary survived infancy. The pressure to provide the realm with a male heir to the throne ultimately caused Henry to doubt the legitimacy of their union and he sought to have his marriage annulled in order to marry Anne Boleyn.
Various portraits of Henry and Katherine were produced during their marriage. The composition and pose of these two paintings (NPG 4690 and NPG L246), dating from around 1520, suggest that they are examples of portrait types that were probably intended for display as a pair. The king and queen are depicted wearing the most luxurious cloths of gold and velvet. Henry is posed in the process of either removing or placing a ring on his right hand; this gesture was frequently used in royal portraits and may refer to the acceptance of kingship or the bestowal of authority. When Henry married Anne Boleyn, Katherine was exiled from court. She continued to refer to herself as queen, however, and an inventory taken after her death poignantly records that she retained a paired image of herself and Henry among her possessions.
- Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 33 Read entry
Katherine was the youngest daughter of the Roman Catholic monarchs Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. She came to England in 1501 at the age of fifteen to marry Arthur, Prince of Wales, but only months after the marriage Arthur died. In 1509 she married Arthur’s younger brother Henry VIII. They had five children, of whom only Princess Mary, later Mary I, survived. Katherine died in 1536, firm in her refusal to give up her title as Queen despite Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn in 1533.
This rare early portrait of Katherine – for many years misidentified as Katherine Parr – is on long-term loan to the Gallery from Lambeth Palace. Recent conservation treatment uncovered a bright green background, patterned to imitate damask silk, like that in the portrait of Henry VIII. Unusually, the portrait remains in its original frame, the red frieze section of which has been recently restored providing a sense of how important early Tudor pictures were presented.
Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top
- Henry and Catherine Reunited (24 January 2013 - 1 September 2013)
Subjects & Themesback to top
Events of 1520back to top
Current affairsThe 'Field of Cloth of Gold' - an elaborately staged meeting between the courts of King Henry VIII and Francis I of France takes place near Calais.
Art and scienceThe German gunsmith Gaspard Kotter invents rifling in the barrels of firearms, improving their range and accuracy.
InternationalThe German Protestant reformer Martin Luther publicly burns the Papal bull Exsurge Domine (Arise, O Lord), written in response to his 95 Theses. Luther is subsequently excommunicated.
The Stockholm Bloodbath - Danish troops massacre Swedish nobles and churchmen opposed to the rule of Christian II of Denmark.
Death of Selim I and succession of Suleiman I as Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
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